As the new administration is gearing up to take over, one of the its major concerns will be fixing the economy. The starting point for this is appointing the right person as the Finance Minister. Already, some names are coming up as possible nominees for the critical position. SULAIMON OLANREWAJU takes a look at those being touted and their pedigrees.
In the run-up to the March 28 presidential election, the issue of the economy was a major point of discussion. The All Progressives Congress (APC) took the Jonathan administration to the cleaners on its management of the economy. The party alleged that the outgoing government had run the economy aground through a combination of incompetence and corruption.
Although the nation’s economy grew to be the largest in Africa under the watch of President Goodluck Jonathan just as it is projected by the CNN to be one of the three fastest growing economies in the world in the current year, growing at the rate of 7.0 per cent, the APC ceaselessly attacked the government on its handling of the economy. The party held that with the high rate of inflation fuelled by the devaluation of the currency as well as the high rate of unemployment and the poor standard of living in the country, Nigerians had become worse off now than they were before the ascendancy of the Jonathan presidency.
APC also mentioned the depletion of the nation’s foreign reserves as well as the unbridled stealing of crude oil as a signal to the mismanagement of the economy by the outgoing government.
The party’s flag bearer, who is the president-elect, General Muhammadu Buhari, had said during one of his campaigns that the mismanagement of the economy by the PDP had made the country broke.
Similarly, the party’s National Director of Publicity, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, had also said in a statement issued before the election to show that the outgoing government had mismanaged the economy that “At the crude oil benchmark of $77.5 for the 2014 budget, Nigeria made $33 per every barrel of oil, which amounts to about $24 billion in a year. However, there is less than $6 billion in the ECA. What happened to the remainder?”
Shortly before the election, former governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Professor Charles Soludo, also joined in the attack, accusing the president of surrendering the economy to the finance minister, Dr (Mrs) Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, just as he accused the minister of mismanaging N30 trillion. He also alleged that the minister was cooking up national statistics while he berated the president for not embarking on any programme or project that would etch his memory in the hearts of Nigerians.
In its defence the Jonathan administration had said that it had diversified the economy and had ensured relative inflation stability in spite of the cascading crude prices.
The election has been won by the APC, which is getting set to form the next government and one of the key ministries that has attracted the attention of the people concerning who would be put forward by the incoming government is the Ministry of Finance. This is important because the fate of the government will be determined by how well it handles the economy because this is central to the people. It is the economy that will determine the welfare of the people will be determined by how well the economy is run. It is for this reason that leaders of the party as well as leaders of thought are interested in who mans the ministry.
Tasks before new Finance Minister
One of the major tasks before the incoming Finance Minister is controlling inflation. The naira has been on a free fall since October last year. With the price of crude on the decline and the exchange rate of the dollar to the naira on the upswing, the value of the nation’s currency has suffered greatly with the effect that inflation has been on the rise, currently at double digits. So, the incoming minister must be able to come up with policies that would give the naira a respite.
The minister must also be able to come up with policies that will reduce poverty in the country. The standard of living is poor because many live below the poverty line. So, whoever is coming in as Finance Minister must be well-schooled in resource management so that as many Nigerians as are practicable will be rescued from the well of poverty as soon as possible.
Then, the current administration has done quite a bit in the area of diversifying the economy but the efforts are not coordinated. So, the incoming minister must have enough experience to bring all the efforts targeted at diversifying the economy together.
Finally, the new minister must be strong enough to ensure that transparency is brought into government business. Now, it is not too easy to get some information from the government. This goes a long way in breeding distrust in the system. So, the new minister must be such that will ensure transparency in all government businesses.
According to some reports last week, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo has recommended Professor Chukwuma Soludo to the incoming president to head the ministry. Similarly, other names such as Professor Pat Utomi and Mrs Obiageli Ezekwesili have also been mentioned.
Professor Chukwuma Soludo
Soludo is an acknowledged macroeconomist. After his education at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, where he bagged his three degrees, he took up a teaching appointment in the university, rising to the level of a professor in 1998. At various times, he served as a consultant to international organizations such as The World Bank, the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, and the United Nations Development Programme. He was also a visiting scholar at the International Monetary Fund, the University of Cambridge, the Brookings Institution, the University of Warwick and the University of Oxford and a visiting professor at Swarthmore College (USA).
Soludo came into national prominence when he was appointed by former President Olusegun Obasanjo as his Chief Economic Adviser. He was later appointed by the former president as the CBN governor on May 29, 2004. During his headship of the CBN, Soludo was able to keep the inflation rate at a single digit for over 24 months, a feat that has yet to be equaled. Also as a way of strengthening the nation’s banks and protect depositors’ interest, he increased banks’ capitalization to N25billion, a situation that resulted in the shrinking of the banks in the country from 109 to 25.
As the CBN governor, he tried to re-denominate the currency to shore up its value but the move was rebuffed by the presidency at the time. His bid for re-appointment did not jell as the late President Umaru Yar’ Adua appointed Mallam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi in his stead in 2009.
Soludo’s strength is in macroeconomics. He is a core professional in the business of economic management. He is seen as one of the people with enough expertise to effect a turnaround of the economy at this time. Having been an economic adviser, he knows what the economic challenges are. Having served as CBN governor, he understands issues about fiscal policies. Having consulted for international organizations, he also has a handle on econometrics, which will be required in changing the nation’s economic trend.
Mrs Obiageli Ezekwesili served as a pioneer director of Transparency International, which she co-founded.
She trained and qualified as a chartered accountant at Deloitte and Touche. She also has a Master’s degree in International Law and Diplomacy from the University of Lagos and another Master’s degree in Public Administration from the Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University.
She was appointed by Chief Obasanjo as the head of the Budget Monitoring and Price Intelligence Unit during which she was able to instill transparency into public procurement and facilitated the Bureau for Public Procurement legislation. The former president also appointed her Chairperson of the Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI) and led the first ever national implementation of the global standards and principles of transparency in the oil, gas and mining sector.
Obasanjo later appointed her Minister of Solid Minerals. She was also Minister of Education towards the end of Obsanjo’s administration.
After leaving office as Education Minister, she was appointed the Vice-President of the World Bank’s Africa division from May 2007 to May 2012. She joined the board of Bharti Airtel as a director in October of that same year. She is also on the boards of World Wildlife Fund (WWF), the School of Public Policy of Central European University as well as The Harold Hartog School of Government and Policy.
Ezekwesili’s strength is her penchant for transparency, her sound understanding of economic policy as well as her unflinching commitment to making a difference wherever she finds herself. It is the general belief that the economy is bleeding because of the many underhand dealings that have been allowed in its operations. It is believed that to revamp the economy, every opaque operation has to be obliterated. If there is anyone with enough gut to do that, it is Oby Ezekwesili.
Professor Patrick Utomi got into the nation’s consciousness after his appointment as a Special Assistant to former President Sheu Shagari in 1983. But the appointment did not last for long as the administration was booted out of office in December of the same year.
He joined Volkswagen of Nigeria in 1984 and worked with the organization for 10 years. He later joined the Lagos Business School, where he was the pioneer Director. He was appointed professor by the school. He has served as the vice-chairman, Platinum–Habib Bank as well as the chairman of BusinessDay Media Limited. He was scholar-in-residence, American University, Washington DC, USA, 1996 and research associate, the Harvard Business School, Boston, Massachusetts, USA.
Professor Utomi is an indisputable authority on the nation’s economy. He has written a lot about the economy and how to turn it around. One of his outstanding works is Why Nations are Poor, where he writes on how a nation can move from poverty to prosperity and abundance. Scaling down poverty and rescuing millions of Nigerians who are enmeshed in poverty is very critical at a time like this. So, appointing a person with proven expertise in this area as the nation’s finance manager cannot be out of order.